From Detroit rapper BabyTron, “an energy unlike anything in hip-hop”


When it comes to concerts, some platitudes and superlatives are cliched to the point of being an expected part of the communion between performer and audience. But at BabyTron’s gig Tuesday night, when someone grabbed the mic to tell the crowd, “If this the best concert in your life, make some noise,” it felt like more than a scripted line. For many of the fresh faces at a sold-out Union Stage, the sentiment clearly rang true.

BabyTron is a 22-year-old rapper from the suburbs of Detroit who has quickly become a figure of fascination in the online world of underground hip-hop. This is largely due to lyrics that are equal parts raunch, taunt and punchline — a postmodern grab bag of references to basketball, pro wrestling, childhood nostalgia and the type of illicit gains made by pilfering credit card numbers off the dark Web.

Anathema to old heads, BabyTron also casually falls off or behind the beat when delivering his stream-of-consciousness flow — not because he can’t rap in time but because he’s too cool to bother. A rapper that doesn’t care wouldn’t be able to rhyme GMC, PNC, TNT, CBD, PCP, TBTs and EBT across a few lines, like he did on “#FREEUNKY” (a song on which he also shouted out his local love — “I ain’t banned from D.C., they love me in the DMV” — to great fanfare).

In contrast to his laid-back lyricism, BabyTron and his collaborators favor heart-palpitating beats that rely on the subwoofer-crackling bass, hi-hat tippa-taps and Casio synthesizers of freestyle, electro and Miami bass — the all-the-way-back sounds of rap’s early days.

No matter that sonic blueprint was written decades before BabyTron and his audience — many bearing the telltale X’s of underage patrons — were born. For ’net natives like these, time is flat, and everything is fair game, whether it be nods to Harry Potter or anti-fashion that made the crowd look like extras on turn-of-the-millenium institution “Total Request Live.”

Backed by handfuls of hangers-on and joined on the mic by his tour mates, BabyTron — in between puffs of smoke — supplemented his prerecorded tracks and worked the trash-compacted crowd into a frenzy that occasionally broke out into a mosh pit. The relentless parade of rapid-fire mixtape cuts had an energy unlike anything in hip-hop, but after an hour, repetition dulled the senses.

Just in time, BabyTron queued up “Emperor of the Universe,” a five-minute cut that packs 21 verses over 21 beats borrowed from the likes of Biggie, Dre, Chief Keef, Future and more. It’s a rap game gimmick, for sure, but — as its title suggests — hints at what BabyTron could really do if he left his comfort zone.

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